Tattoo, Part One of Three

Yesterday I had the first of three sessions for my very first tattoo.

I’d been talking about this for much of 2019. If I was going to do it, I wanted to go all out. I knew I wanted something that would represent my family, so I talked to Amy and the kids about what sort of imagery would best represent them.

Amy liked the idea of a tree: natural and outdoorsy, with strong roots and branches. For my son Jamie, a dragon was the obvious choice. And for Skylar, we went with a moon. I spent a while looking at artists online, scrolling through portfolios, before finally settling on James Hurley at Eclectic Art Tattoo in Lansing.

I went in to meet with him in August. We talked about what I wanted, and he sounded confident he could pull it all together and create something I was happy with.

Here’s the “Before” picture from yesterday morning — my last day ever of having a naked left arm. (Click on any of the pics if you want a larger view.)

Jim - Left Arm, Pre-Tattoo

James was finishing up inking the drawing to create a stencil when I arrived. This was my first time seeing his design, which made me nervous. What if I didn’t like it? What if I wanted him to make lots of changes?

I needn’t have worried. I peeked over his shoulder, saw what he was touching up, and loved it. It got the three elements I wanted, and the overall image is very on-brand for me 🙂

Tattoo - Drawing

He finished up, then photocopied the whole thing to check the sizing against my arm. He wasn’t sure if this would be too big, or if we should go a tiny bit smaller, but in the end we both decided to keep it as is. So the photocopy went through another machine to print the stencil. It reminded me some of the old dittos we used to get back in elementary school…

Tattoo - Stencil

Now it was time to prep my arm. I’d shaved beforehand, but he ran the razor over my arm to catch any strays and get rid of my arm stubble. He cleaned the skin and applied the stencil. He also sketched a bit with Sharpie, kind of marking where the foliage would eventually go for the tree, and giving a sense of the boundaries for the image.

For the first time, I got to see what this thing would look like on my arm.

Spoiler: I liked it. Purple ditto lines and all.

Stencil applied

Now there was nothing left but to get on the table and let James start firing a motorized needle into my skin.

He started with some of the smallest lines — the tufts of grass around the dragon’s feet — to give me a chance to get used to the pain. This was my first tattoo, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but my daughter had described it as feeling like a kitten’s claw scratching a sunburn.

That was pretty accurate. And as someone who’s gotten plenty of kitten scratches over the years, the pain wasn’t bad.

The inking begins!

He’d ink a few lines, wipe away the excess ink, and repeat, pausing as needed to dip more ink. Like a motorized fountain pen. (There was also a brief delay for equipment troubleshooting, since the he was using had a short.)

Here’s what his workspace looked like after we’d been going for a while…

Work space with tattoo guns, ink, water, ointment

All total, he spent close to four hours working on my arm, stopping for a few breaks for both of us. Two or three times, he’d spray me down in Bactine and wrap the arm in Bactine-soaked paper towels, which was heavenly. A few minutes of that took all the pain away.

Because by now, he was doing some of the longer and thicker lines. Some of those lines went into the more sensitive skin close to the armpit. Basically, it felt the same as before, but the sunburn was worse and the kittens had longer claws. There was a little swelling with the lines, and a few tiny spots of blood, but nothing bad or worrisome.

Bactine wrap

We had a little time left when he finished inking the last of the lines, so he started on some shading, talking about how excited he was at the lighting possibilities in the image, and all of the depth and development yet to come. You could tell he was into this, and genuinely liked the artwork he was creating, which is a good thing.

He also drew in some light gray lines that will serve more as guidance for the next round, but after that, he’d done pretty much everything he could do for now. He talked about wanting to start on the color just so we could see what it looked like, but that would have to wait. He wiped me up and gave me one last, lovely Bactine wrap.

We went over care instructions. I’d get a breathable covering that stays on for three days. After that, wash 3 times/day and apply a thin layer of ointment until it’s healed, which could be a week or more. (With me being diabetic, I’m guessing it will be more.)

I’ve got three sessions scheduled. Number two will be in the beginning of January. We’ll start coloring things in then. I’m not sure how much we’ll get done in that session, and what will have to wait until the end of January. This is a good-sized tattoo, and that’s a lot of skin to color.

Here’s what I looked like at the end of it all.

Tattoo after session one

It’s a bit sore —  again, a lot like a sunburn. I couldn’t sleep on that arm last night, but I haven’t been sleeping well in months anyway, so it’s not like it caused me any additional trouble.

I’m really happy with how it looks so far. I feel like James really got what I wanted, even though I couldn’t really visualize it in my own head.

I’ve been looking forward to this for many months. Now, I just can’t wait to go back and get it finished!

Oh, and people have warned me that this is addictive. For now, I think I’m happy just getting this one completed. But I won’t rule out the possibility of another one of these days, if there’s something significant and meaningful I want to add. (And once I’ve replenished the tattoo budget!)

I’ll post more pics in January after we finish the next session.